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Artists To Watch Out For: Sultana And Jyoti Noora

The sisters from Jalandhar build the buzz around folk music again with their qawwali vocal styles and traditional Sufi music lineage


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Sultana Noora, Jyoti Noora and Hitesh Sonik (from left) on the sets of                                  Coke Studio @ MTV Season 2

The residents of a village near Kartarpur in Jalandhar district in Punjab are now as accustomed to TV crews trooping in and out of the Noora household, as they are to the sound of the harmonium and occasionally a tumbi accompanying Punjabi folk songs. The home of Bibi Noora, whose legacy is being carried forward by three generations of musicians, has turned into a landmark in Jalandhar. “Even though I never met Bibiji,” as grandson Gulshan Mir calls her, “We have learnt a lot by listening to her audio cassettes and learning from musicians she played with. Her music is in our blood.”

Since he can remember, Mir has been playing the harmonium with his mother, Bibi Noora’s daughter, Swarn Noora. An exponent of qawwali and Sufiana kalam, Mir began training his daughters Sultana and Jyoti Noora early. “They are the future. We can only preserve and spread our music through them and they will take the Sufi preaching far and wide, even to cinema,” said Mir in an episode of MTV’s show Sound Trippin’ where 20-year-old Sultana and 17-year-old Jyoti brought music composer Sneha Khanwalkar’s song “Tung Tung” alive.

This month, the sisters will be seen again on another televised jam show, Coke Studio@ MTV Season 2. Collaborating with music composer Hitesh Sonik, Sultana and Jyoti sing a rendition of Sufi poet Bulleh Shah’s “Allah Nu Waja Aye.” “The first time I heard them sing was on a YouTube video that my friend Sneha pointed me towards. I couldn’t believe that these were the voices of two young girls. When I met them, I wanted to create a composition that was true to their voices,” says Sonik.

The Noora sisters perform with an unbridled energy that infuses a new spirit into the recitations of verses of Sufi poets such as Waris Shah, often recalling the vocal styles of qawwal legends such as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Reshma and Bibi Noora. “We both love Sufi music and qawwali. We wake up in the morning and begin rehearsing, go to school, come back and start rehearsing again. Our aim is to work with more musicians and bring our music to them,” says Sultana, who would like to move to Mumbai to become a playback singer. “We perform at least once a week in Punjaband after Sneha didi met us we have been traveling to Mumbai a lot. Both Jyoti and I want to take our families there and become fulltime musicians,” says Sultana.

Like in most music families, the Noora sisters began singing early – when they were barely five years old. “It all began with our home, when dadiji (Swarn Noora) and papaji (Mir) would wake us up in the morning and we would sit with them for riyaaz,” says Sultana. Sultana and Jyoti not only learnt the scriptures and passages of two of their favorite Sufi poets, Bulleh Shah and Waris Shah, but also took a keen interest in qawwali. “Dadiji and papaji both listened to a lot of qawwali and even though we ourselves haven’t heard many qawwals ourselves, we like the impassioned delivery and vocal styles which we try to incorporate in our music,” says Sultana, who looks upto Bibi Noora, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Swarn Noora and Reshma. At school, Sultana and Jyoti they participated in numerous school shows and later traveled with Swarn Noora and Mir for various concerts in and around Punjab. “Dadiji would perform a lot inAmritsar,Delhi and annually for the Qila Raipur games (regional sports inPunjab). We were around 10 years old or maybe younger when we began accompanying them,” says Sultana.

Since 2006, the Noora sisters performed in Sufi baithaks across North India, but their first big break was when they met Khanwalkar. “Sneha didi came to Jalandhar to meet musicians at All India Radio. Somebody at the station recommended our name and she came looking for us at our home. She took a few samples of our voices and soon we were on a plane to Mumbai to record,” says Sultana.

Though singing for Hindi film scores is what the Noora sisters would like to ultimately do, the two are insistent they will do it on their own terms. “Performing for Hitesh Sonikji and Sneha did, we know that the audience like us. They respect our roots, which are very important to us and we would like to maintain that. No item songs, only soulful music,” says Sultana, who lists AR Rahman and Gulzar on her list of music composers that she would like to work with. “If you want to sing, then you must sing with people who have soul,” she says.

Here’s a rehearsal clip from the Coke Studio@MTV episode, which will air on July 14th, 7 pm on MTV

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